How many times have you pulled into a campsite and gotten set-up before you discovered that the picnic table was not as sanitary as you would have liked? It’s unfortunate, but many campers just don’t respect the campsite’s physical property.
The electrical, water, and sewer connections often bear the brunt of the abuse, but picnic tables are frequently misused and that poses a special hazard because we’re not going to eat dinner off the electrical connection or serve our kid’s lunch on a sewer hook-up.
Wooden surfaces are just not sanitary
If you’ve ever been involved in a health inspection for a commercial kitchen, you know that porous wooden surfaces and food just don’t go together.
Wooden cutting boards, butcher blocks, and wooden spoons are forbidden in commercial kitchens (places where there’s a diligent effort to keep things clean). So how much more unsanitary is the porous wooden surface of a picnic table when campers treat it like it’s everything but a place to eat?
A picnic table is not…
Let’s re-examine what a picnic table is not. It’s not a grooming table for our pet’s care. It’s not a DIY handyman’s workbench for a greasy project. It’s not a substitute blackboard for our kid’s outdoor chalk art. A picnic table is not a place for the kids to play king on the mountain or a place to clean and fillet a salmon. It’s not a place to chop kindling. It’s not a clothes rod, or a bike rack, or a place to change a diaper, and this next example is so bad, I still can’t believe I saw this with my own eyes.
In fact, this last misuse of a picnic table is so horrific, it made me rethink every time I’ve ever used a picnic table while camping. I remember as a kid, setting my flimsy paper plate on the picnic table, overloaded with mom’s potato salad and piled high with potato chips but when I put my newly roasted hot dog on the crowded plate, the top chips tumble off onto the tabletop. But no worries, I snatched ‘em up, way before the 3 second rule, and stuffed them into my mouth, without another thought of sanitation or safety.
In the past 23 years, while camping in all kinds of parks and campgrounds I’ve seen all of these misuses of a picnic table. But this last example, just about made my head explode.
A couple weeks ago, in a nice campground in Palm Desert, I saw a man put a dripping sewer hose on the picnic table while he was breaking down his campsite, and it was this unthinkable affront to basic sanitation and hygiene that prompted the writing of this article.
A picnic table is…
We’ve pondered what a picnic table is not, now let examine what it is. It’s an expensive asset that belongs to the campground, and it’s a courtesy for the park owners and management to provide one in every campsite. They are a useful addition, and some can be quite elaborate.
I’ve seen picnic tables in provincial parks in Canada that are beautifully crafted, permanent fixtures in each site. Their bases and benches are made of concrete with exposed aggregate surfaces, and the tabletops are 4-inch-thick stained planks.
Each table represents a significant investment and damaging one of these beautiful campground features would be like having a guest in your home, use a hammer or ax on your dining room table.
In fact, all the provided assets in any campground are someone else’s property, provided for our convenience and enjoyment, but just because we get to use them for a short period of time doesn’t give us permission to abuse this property. The fact that the picnic tables belong to someone else should make us even more careful in the way we use them.
But even if we all treated our picnic table like it was our own dining room table, it would still not be a sanitary place to eat. Outdoor amenities naturally attract insects, rodents, birds and vermin that walk on the tables with their dirty feet, leaving an unsanitary trail of droppings and bacteria.
Even if we clean the picnic table and spray it with cleaners, it’s still wood, it’s porous, and it’s just never going to be clean enough for food prep or service.
So how can we use and enjoy this outdoor dining asset? I recommend covering it with a tablecloth and pinning that cloth down with clips or weights. But don’t just put a tablecloth on when you arrive and leave it in place for the duration of your stay. If we do that, insects, rodents, and birds will just walk on the tablecloth instead of the table, but they will still be tracking all kinds of unwholesome debris onto a surface where we eat.
I suggest that we fold our tablecloths in half and anchor them in place as soon as we finish a meal. The underside of the tablecloth is already contaminated by the table, so folding the top surface (where we eat) to the inside of the fold, will protect it and leave the underside of the tablecloth exposed to the camp critters.
A picnic table is a nice added feature at any campsite. We need to respect and care for this asset as though it belonged to us even if we only get to use it for a spell, and we should always endeavor to leave it (and the campsite) better than the way we found it.